Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The Great Ireland Run fiasco - What went wrong???

The Great Ireland Run was held in the Phoenix Park in Dublin on Sunday the 16th of April 2023 with roughly 1800 runners taking park. It also doubled up as the Athletics Ireland National 10km Championships.

On the day, the runners were sent the wrong way at a road junction and ended up running about 8.4kms instead of the intended 10kms.

Athletics Ireland issued this statement afterwards...

National 10k Statement: Athletics Ireland and the event organiser Dublin City Harriers wish to apologise to all participants for the unforeseen circumstances that led to today’s Great Ireland Run (incorporating the national 10k championship) being less than the specified distance. 

Athletics Ireland will continue to engage with the race organisers on the matter and will update national 10k championship participants when further information becomes available

This was widely reported in the national media as well as on the BBC and large running websites like Runners World UK. All of the media reports just carry the statement and don't really explain what went wrong.

There has also been a lot of speculation about what went wrong with people incorrectly blaming the lead Garda bike or the front runners.

In this post, I'll examine what happened and put forward the case that the fundamental problem wasn't 'human error' but the poor design of the race course by the organisers.

On the route map above, note the Yellow dots. Runners were supposed to do a 3km loop before starting a much larger loop around the park. This Yellow 3km loop is the key as there was an obvious requirement for the start area to be clear by the time the front runners came around again.

First of all, let's look at what happened.

The map above on the left shows the correct course. The Yellow arrows show the initial 3km loop. At about 2.3kms, the runners should turn right onto the start/finish road and at the end of this road (Furze Road), they would turn left and start a larger loop in Red arrows. At about 7.8kms, they would carry straight on (purple arrows) and do part of the initial loop in reverse. They would approach the finish line from the West.

The map above on the right shows what actually happened. The first 2kms is fine as per the Yellow arrows. At 2.3kms, the leaders were directed straight on instead of turning to the right. They were now essentially doing the course in reverse (see Green arrows). The runners were then directed so that they then approached the finish line from the East. However, the diverted course still wasn't long enough and was about 1.6kms short of the full 10km distance.

Some runners complained afterwards about the fact that the finishing strait was blocked by people that had already finished. The key reason for this was that all of the baggage and other facilities were now on the wrong side of the finish line.

The 3.4k Loop... Whatever about the wrong route, the key thing to examine is the 3km loop as this is where the problem was.

This is the sequence of events as they were planned to happen as per the Great Ireland Run website. Note that the first wave starts at 10:00 and the 3rd wave starts 6-minutes later.

Timeline... Let's look at a timeline of events and how they likely played out.

10:00 - The first wave of sub 36 min and elite runners start. If we assume the fastest runners are going to finish around the 30 minute mark then that's a pace of 3 mins per km.

10:01 - Looking at the start line video, it took about 40 seconds for the first wave to clear the start line. That allowed about 2m 20s for the 2nd wave to move up to the start line. The front of the 2nd wave will have moved up to the start line quick enough but it will take a while before this trickles back to the rear of the 2nd wave. I suspect those at the back of the 2nd wave (50-55min runners) may not have moved much by the time the race starts for them at 10:03. In effect, the 2nd wave is now slightly stretched out rather than compact.

10:03 - The leading group in the first wave reach the 1km mark. The 2nd wave starts. Considering that the 2nd wave is probably slightly stretched out and this wave is running slower, I'd expect it might take say 90 seconds for them to clear the start line. That now leaves just 90 seconds for the 3rd wave to move up to the start line and this will be even more stretched out.

10:06 - The first wave reaches the 2km mark and is now just 300m from turning right onto the road where the race is starting. The 3rd wave starts and could take two minutes to clear the start line.

10:07 - At this stage, the front runners of the 1st wave arrive at the Chesterfield Avenue / Furze Road junction. They are supposed to turn right as shown as per the photo above. This route is blocked by small Yellow cones and the runners are told to keep going straight ahead instead. Everyone else follows them and in effect, everyone does most of the 10k course in reverse and end up running about 8.6kms instead of 10km.

As you can see from this post above from Twitter, the lead Garda bike and lead runner had intended to turn right but were directed straight ahead.


Alternate Timeline: Let's play out a sequence of events based on if the runners had turned right and stayed on the correct route.

10:07 - Front runners of the 1st wave turn right at the 2.3km junction. Half of the 3rd wave have now passed the start line.

10:08 - Front runners of the 1st wave are now 300m or so from the start line. The last of the 3rd wave runners leave the start line.

10:09 - Front runners of the 1st wave reach the 3km mark and having completed the loop, cross the start line again. The rear of the 3rd wave who are running probably slower than 7:00/km pace are now just 100-150m up the road.

10:10 - Front runners of the 1st wave reach 3.3kms and plough straight into the back of the 3rd wave. The road will be blocked for the next 200m.

My initial assessment... Based on what I think would have happened, the front runners would have ploughed into the back of the field regardless of whether everyone followed the correct course. i.e. the fundamental problem was with the course and the organisers, not with some individual standing at some junction.

This is important as the liability then rests with the organisers for not designing a proper route.

So what happened back at that 2.3km junction???... I can see two likely scenarios.

A) The race stewards or 'race marshals' as they like to call them in Dublin didn't know the course and failed to direct the lead motorbike and runners right and onto Furze Road and the correct course.


B) Seeing that the Furze Road was full of runners waiting to start and that the road was blocked, someone made a decision to send the race straight ahead and down Chesterfield Avenue instead seeing it was the lesser of two evils.

Serious Questions about the organisers... If the course and planned sequence of events was hopelessly naive, then that raises questions about who organised the race.

Organising a 10km race with 2000 or so participants would be a challenging task for even the most experienced athletics club with lots of road racing experience and a large membership.

The organising club for the Great Ireland Run was Dublin City Harriers AC. I don't know anything about the club so I went looking.

According to Athletics Ireland's own membership stats, Dublin City Harriers AC had just 39 adult members at the end of February. So my first question is...

Q1. Does a club with just 39 adult members have the resources to hold a major 10k race with 2000 participants?

You'll notice that the club also has a lot more 'senior' (21-34 year old) members than 'masters' (35 year old and above). This is the exact opposite to most athletic clubs with a large membership of road runners.

When I did a search online, it seems that Dublin City Harriers is primarily a track and field athletics club and this would tie in with the larger 'senior' membership. That then brings me to my second question...

Q2. Does an athletics club that is primarily involved in track and field events have any experience of holding a major road race?

I don't know the club so I don't have an answer but it seems very odd that a track and field club is organising a major road race. 

We don't see athletic clubs that are mainly involved in road races trying to organise major track races but then again, there's no money to be made in that. That brings me to my third and final question...

Q3. For Dublin City Harriers AC and Athletics Ireland, is it really just all about the money at the end of the day?

No point skirting the issue. I think a lot of people will come to the conclusion that it's all about the money at the end of the day and the National 10k Championship is secondary. It's all about putting on a commercial race and trying to milk as much money as possible from what they see as 'recreational  runners'.

In conclusion... I've laid out what I think happened and show that there were some serious issue with this race regardless of whether runners took the right route on the day or not. Looking at this race from here in Cork, I can see from the race route and planned timeline that there were serious problems that were likely to occur. Anyone experienced race organiser should have spotted these potential issues.

I think the course with the initial 3km loop and planned sequence of three wave starts was flawed and that the organisers and Athletics Ireland are liable. The event should be held again at a later date for the same participants with the option of a refund.

Athletics Ireland are quite happy to take the money for their new 'One-Day Licence' and they should be liable as well when a road championship isn't properly organised.

I think in reality they are likely to go to ground, brazen it out and hope it's forgotten about. Cash cows tend to have a short memory.

Credit: Thanks to Donal Coakley and his blog post which helped no end in piecing together what transpired on the day.


  1. Tracy Bohan19/4/23 2:37 pm

    Lots of good points in this post. Dublin road races have many more slow/recreational runners participating, both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of participants, than races in Cork and elsewhere outside Dublin. Community-based recreational running clubs have emerged all over Dublin in recent years, with membership increasing significantly during the pandemic when road running was one of the few exercise opportunities available during lockdowns.

    Most road races in Dublin seek to attract both competitive/fast runners and slow/recreational runners (who make up the bulk of entries) but a lot of races fail to meet the needs of both types of runner, with looped courses in particular causing difficulties for the front-runners and the back-markers, and the placement of finish lines causing faster finishers to have to cross the course on their way home while slower runners are still running.

    A factor with the 2023 Great Ireland Run course may be that the possibility for road closures in the Phoenix Park has reduced since this time last year with changes to traffic management and an increasing concern to reduce disruption to car traffic in and through the park. Having said that, the decision to have a 3km loop at the start of a large participation event was very badly thought out, perhaps due to a failure to appreciate that most participants in the race would be running at >60 minutes pace, and quite a few at >75 minutes.

    The Great Ireland Run shambles that affected not only the championship runners, many of whom travelled considerable distances with travel and accommodation expenses, but also all those who had trained with the hope of a PB or running a good time. Last Sunday's mess will likely discourage many people from entering future races in the Phoenix Park, which is unfortunate for them personally and will also affect the viability of future events in Dublin.

  2. The National 10km championship shouldn’t be part of the great Ireland run. It should be moved around the country and left to athletic clubs to run. Lumping it in as part of a fun run devalues it and is a lazy option from athletics ireland.

  3. Excellent analysis and I agreed with the previous comments. What actually happened probably averted a more serious issue if they ran the route as planned.
    In fairness to the organisers the 10 AM start was probably dictated by the Office of Public Works who manage the Phoenix Park .

  4. Be careful what you say as AI just blocks individuals who have an opinion they do not like !

  5. Great analysis John. Thank you. Very frustrating for anyone who had trained well and was looking to race hard.

  6. If you look at the first graphic on this page, the poster/advertising map (and based on the fact that Furze road is about 1.2km) you'll notice that the start/finish is approximately 400m East of the intersection with Ordnance Survey Road. However on race day, the start finish was much further away, about 800m East of that intersection.
    Had it been 400m, I believe there would have been enough time for the last wave to clear Furze road before being caught by the lead pack.

    And while I do agree you can't crown a national road 10k champ, a race was still run. All runners did their best and were on a level playing field, no one benefited wilfully from the incorrect course.

    Medals should therefore be awarded.

  7. Bottom line here, is what every AAI member has been saying for years. Events that AAI lump road championships onto, are for raising money only. They don't want to actually organise a road championship, but happy to take the money. We all remember the drama a few years ago, at the Rock and Roll HM that included the national HM championship, traffic management was a disaster.

    AAI need to bring national events back to clubs and share them out between the provinces. Only AAI members allowed enter, no cash cow events, but a championship for club runners.

    But that will never happen again as AAI are all about the money

  8. They should of just started everyone at the same time and used chip times

  9. Sounds about right. Also adding the National 10k in the title is a marketing strategy to draw more runners and therfore sell more tickets. It's a shame it happened and will have an affect on next year on numbers. Recreational athletics will still sign up but not people that had this as their A race.

  10. As a club runner that travelled up from Tipperary to compete in the National 10k Championship I am very disappointed with Athletics Ireland handling of this event.
    Crossing the line as a medalist a guy came up to me and said more or less “Don’t get too excited that was not a 10k there was a mistake so the National Championship results won’t count and you won’t get a medal”……..first or all Doh!! Did he think I didn’t know the race was short? also no “I am so sorry “ it was bad form in every way. Yes the human error was the poor race organization so club and Athletics Ireland are responsible for this mess. The statement said participants would be contacted for further update but heard nothing yet.

  11. There are a lot of combined factors that came into play which is the reason why this race was a mess and always would have been. There is also a lot of conjecture going around about what happened including in the above analysis. Not trying to defend the race organisers here at all but it is now very difficult for a race organiser hosting a race in the park to design a successful course of their liking and have an ideal start time. Depending on the size of the race there are pretty much two options presented by the authorities. Some established races may have some flexibility but if you are a new event the chances are you won't get in or will have severe restrictions imposed. I was never in favour of the championship 10k being part of the Great Ireland Run but can also see other combined factors as to why it is.

  12. You won't hear from them. They are gone into hiding. They have even removed the statement they issued on their twitter account.

  13. Keith Eglington20/4/23 9:26 pm

    Great Article and well written. I fully agree with the synopsis and suspect AAI will continue to silence responses and learn nothing from this disaster.
    This is our national championships and we have Athletes who training and targeted this race. AAI are complacent and take the national road races for granted.

  14. simple not run by runners for runners

    none of the best road races in the country are organised by AI

    give these championship races back to the grass roots

    the organisation is a shambles under Hamish time for him to move on

  15. It would have needed some quick thinking but they could have got a bit closer to 10k by doing the yellow loop at the end. Still short - but considering they are now awarding medals…

  16. It would be interesting to see the basis for the allocation of the race to DCH. Were there proposals or bids from other Dublin clubs?

    It was amusing to see that a senior DCH club official was appointed Life Vice-President of the AAI the day before this race. Regardless of that, AAI were quick to attribute all blame to DCH both on the day and since. Their statement on 21 April says: "Queries from those participants who took part in the Great Ireland Run, but were not part of the National Championships can be sent via email" direct to DCH. It would also be interesting to know what the response to those emails is/will be. Club runners can get a free entry in another championship race this year. Not really adequate for runners who travelled long distances.


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